When Cascade Beagle Rescue asked us to foster Charlie, one of the abused and neglected beagles found in a garbage dumpster, we did not hesitate to say yes. Little Charlie came to us as a very ill and frightened boy. He obviously had never lived in a home before. As soon as Charlie stepped onto our kitchen linoleum, he did a face plant right on the floor.
When the dishwasher started up, he ran and hid. Poor little boy. He was also a bit wild and crazy when it came to food and what he considered to be his possessions. This little wayward beagle had to eat his food on a cookie sheet so he wouldn’t eat too fast and was banned to the laundry room with the door shut at mealtime. If anyone went near him while he was eating he became a lion, King of the Jungle, and you had better get out of his jungle! He was afraid to trust people.
Our hearts broke for this little guy and we wondered if he would be able to overcome his fears and be able to be a family pet. Well, miracles do happen and often they happen in unexpected ways.
Turn the clock back six years. When my husband and I decided to add to our family again through adoption we had a list in our minds of what we didn’t think we could deal with when it came to adopting a child with special needs. We had decided that we did not want to adopt a child with Cerebral Palsy (CP) and we did not want to adopt a child who was blind. There were a few other things on our list but those two stood out to us as disabilities we did not think we could handle and so were on the top of our “No Way” list. Well, obviously, there was a bigger picture that we weren’t aware of and along comes Austin. He had a couple of strokes before he was born and as a result was born missing about a third of one side of his brain. We were told he probably wouldn’t walk without a walker or crutches and he probably would never talk. How could we say no? He needed a family. He needed our family. What better family to be in for him than one comprised of others with challenges. He would never feel different in our home. So, cross CP off the “No Way” list. What we weren’t told by the doctors was that Austin was also legally blind. Okay, so now two of the top “No Way”s on our list were now a reality. And, you know what….we wouldn’t change a thing! Austin is a joy to be around and always lights up a room with his smile.
So, you might ask, how do you deal with a child with multiple disabilities? And the answer is, just as you do any child. Austin was born this way so he has learned to adapt and does an amazing job. Austin started walking independently when he was three. When he walks, he wildly swings his arms and we all duck. He hasn’t broken anything… yet! We get asked all the time if we are sure Austin is blind. That question always amazes us because why would anyone make that up? We usually just reply, “yes” and then they say…..”But he doesn’t look blind!” So what is a person who is blind supposed to look like? What is a person with CP supposed to look like? Act like? Be like to live with?
Well, Austin is just like any other six year old. He is a loving, caring child who likes animals, sports, cars, and trains. He loves Underdog and our family beagle Bailey. He loves to give hugs and kisses, laugh, scream, and be ornery. Austin always amazes us with his intelligence, and frankly, he is smarter than most people! He is at grade level in a regular kindergarten class. He has a speech delay because he was born missing the entire speech part of the brain. He didn’t start talking at all until he was four years old. Now he talks all the time and his speech is very clear. For example, “That is my truck Charlie, drop it!” “Man, the beagle is bombing again!” That is Austin talk for “we have a gassy beagle in the house!” And, “MOM, Charlie stole my slippers!”
Yes, we have our challenges, and there are days when it isn’t easy. But, when you see Austin, as a volunteer for Cascade Beagle Rescue, working with an afraid and previously abused beagle, teaching that dog to love and be loved, there is no doubt that despite his challenges, Austin is wiser than us all.
Austin worked tirelessly with Charlie. He felt it was his mission to teach Charlie to be a “good boy”. Sure they had their battles, mostly over toys and who had the right to be in “that” spot on the couch! There were days when they squabbled all day long. It was just like two brothers arguing. Charlie loved to steal Austin’s favorite toys and he quickly learned that no place was safe from Austin. Charlie would fly out the doggie door with a toy truck in his mouth and Austin would fly right out that doggie door after him. Yes, well, Austin can open the human door but it is more fun to fly out the doggie door when you are on a mission to retrieve that beloved truck.
Despite their squabbles, Austin and Charlie grew very close. They learned how to play together. Charlie learned to move away from the flailing arms of Austin. He learned to move out of the way if Austin started to fall. Charlie learned that Austin could not see at all out of the right side of his eyes so when Austin would go to sit on the couch, Charlie would move to the left where he could be seen. He also learned that he could steal that cookie out of Austin’s right hand and Austin wouldn’t see him until it was too late. There were many days of tug of war between human and dog, neither really winning but both accomplishing a lot. And then, one night, Charlie jumped up into bed with Austin, gave him lots of kisses, and curled up in a little ball and fell asleep with Austin. It was at that moment that the light went on for Charlie, and he began to love and to understand. They became friends.
We had always told Austin that Charlie would find his forever family some day, and so he decided that it was important for Charlie to learn how to share, how to play with doggie toys, and how to wear the coveted puppy slippers. Austin taught Charlie that it is okay to have a bone taken from your mouth without a growl. He taught Charlie that baths can be fun. He taught Charlie that love has no boundaries and that slobbery kisses are the best. Charlie was able to tell when Austin was having a bad time or didn’t feel well and he worked extra hard to get a smile from Austin. When Austin smiled, Charlie wagged his tail excitedly. That smile was all the reward Charlie needed to know he had done something good. Austin started to call Charlie “Lucky Chucky” without really understanding how lucky Charlie was to be rescued by such a caring organization.
Austin is so proud that Charlie was able to overcome many of his challenges and be placed with a disabled man. Charlie is working towards the honor of being a service dog. Austin helped a small frightened little dog learn patience and confidence. Austin helped Charlie learn to bond with humans and to trust. That young beagle was transformed from a dumpster dog into a special friend with a purpose in life and a job to do. Charlie taught Austin that you are never too young to volunteer and to make a difference! And Charlie and Austin together taught us all that miracles do happen.